How to Bring Environmental Design Optimizations into SOLIDWORKS
Customers are demanding more from their products. In today’s economy, products need to be robust, inexpensive and green. From an engineering design standpoint, these are not always mutually-exclusive goals. The design process just needs to incorporate the right software to optimize for these goals from the start.
Engineers need tools like SOLIDWORKS Sustainability in order to begin this optimization process. Otherwise, even with the best environmental intentions, they may be flying blind.
Environmental Life-cycle Assessment 101 for Engineering Design
SOLIDWORKS Sustainability assesses the environmental impacts of a product’s lifecycle to help optimize designs. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes-SolidWorks.
SOLIDWORKS Sustainability works off of the environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA) framework. To engineers experienced with systems engineering, the concept is similar. However, LCA aims to add environmental optimization to a systems analysis mindset.
“LCA is a method to quantitatively assess the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire lifecycle, from the procurement of the raw materials, through the production, distribution, use and disposition of that product,” explained Eric Leafquist, senior product manager at Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS.
In other words, LCA calculates the resource consumption, transportation, energy and waste production during five stages of a product’s life. These stages are defined as:
- Raw material extraction
- Material processing
- Product use
- End-of-life (EOL)
For SOLIDWORKS Sustainability, this equates to the assessment of air pollutants, water usage, carbon footprint and energy footprint, from the product’s cradle to its grave.
How Do My Design Decisions Affect the Environment?
“Typically, decisions by an engineer early in the design process lock in the environmental impact of the product for the entire life of the product,” explained Leafquist.
In the early days of simulation, environmental assessments were typically an afterthought of design, if done at all.
These assessments were made as serial processes after the design was completed for confirmation. However, if these assessments were to highlight any issues, changes to the product would be expensive or even unfeasible.
“SOLIDWORKS Sustainability allows engineers to create simple mock-ups of their products, attach materials and lifecycle processes to them, and start an analysis into the environmental impact,” said Leafquist. “As the product becomes more defined, you can continue to assess the environmental impacts in a more parallel process.”
Just as costing and simulation assessments are trending toward working in parallel with product design, environmental assessments can now also be added to this mix. This is useful as counterintuitive results for costing, simulation and the environmental impact can arise in your assessments.
SOLIDWORKS Sustainability can suggest materials for your product that have similar material properties but are better for the environment. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes-SolidWorks.
For instance, you can choose a more expensive material, pound for pound, that will make your product stronger, more sustainable and cost less overall. This can typically happen when the strength of the material allows the engineer to produce a smaller part that is easier to manufacture and recycle from the benchmark.
However, it is also possible that the opposite can happen. A cheaper material can produce a more expensive, less environmentally-friendly product.
The point of SOLIDWORKS Sustainability is that if you never check, you never know. Additionally, to make this material selection easier, SOLIDWORKS Sustainability has a feature that allows engineers to select a similar material for their product that might ease the environmental impact.
“Whether you like it or not, you might design a perfectly sustainable product from various perspectives, but it may end up costing too much,” said Leafquist. “Being able to gauge your design aesthetics, sustainability, strength and cost from the earliest times is a great recipe for success.”
How SOLIDWORKS Calculates Your Environmental Assessment
Using SOLIDWORKS Sustainability, engineers are able to input the lifecycle processes their products will likely experience within the recognizable SOLIDWORKS platform.
Based on the information the user provides for each part, SOLIDWORKS Sustainability will produce an LCA based on the GaBi sustainability database from thinkstep.
“The SOLIDWORKS CAD and Sustainability products provided the geometry, part relationships, material assignment, integrated user interface and display of the results,” said Leafquist. “The GaBi database provides the sustainability data for materialsand the algorithms for performing the LCA assessment.”
He added, “The database factors in the impacts of raw material production, use of recycled content, production methods to make the final part, painting or other finishings, transportation of parts to the point of use (or assembly), and how to process the part after its useful life. Each part can be controlled individually.”
Engineers make all the necessary selections to run the LCA from the dashboard inside the SOLIDWORKS platform.
“We can assign the manufacturing processes, use and end-of-life,” Leafquist said. “A common example is an injection-molded part out of ABS. We ask questions like, where will it be made? Where will it be used? Where will it be consumed? For instance, you can set the design to be manufactured in China, and then used and incinerated or recycled in America.”
He added, “It is an approximation to some extent, but we have a lot of factors we can add in here. For each of these we can assign the material, place of manufacture, typical use, how it will be transported and the distance from point to point.”
How to Assess Your SOLIDWORKS Sustainability Results?
There are various ways that the LCA results can be displayed using SOLIDWORKS Sustainability. For instance, there is a series of pie charts in the dashboard that will outline how much each stage in the product’s lifecycle affects each of the environmental factors.
Pie charts inform the engineer which processes contribute the most to various environmental impacts. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes-SolidWorks.
This will help the engineers to narrow down what processes within the product’s life contribute most to the environment.
The Assembly Visualization mode helps engineers to further narrow down which factors in the design have the greatest impact on the environment. This function color codes your assembly model to show you which parts are contributing the most to a particular environmental factor.
Leafquist noted that there is a considerable amount of freedom when the designer uses SOLIDWORKS to assess their product based on cost, simulations and environmental impact.
He said, “The tools are very closely integrated so you can run many different parametric optimizations studies with respect to the environment and the part’s performance.”
Using parameter-based optimization, and connecting these tools together, the engineer can simultaneously learn more and more about how their product will perform in the field, in production and in the environment.
Engineers should note, however, that, similar to early-stage simulations, an LCA typically used to generate relative results. In other words, it’s best used to judge one variation compared to another, rather than to find absolute results.
“It’s not a question of being inaccurate and it’s not about targeting a certain value,” clarified Leafquist. “It’s a relative measure of things. There are different ways to improve the outcome depending on how you design and plan to produce the product. It’s about getting as low as you can and [balancing] real-world requirements. If you can improve the carbon footprint and water usage, you can make better decisions. And if you do it correctly, you can also reduce costs.”
To learn more about SOLIDWORKS Sustainability, now part of the SOLIDWORKS Premium CAD product, follow this link.
About the Author
Shawn Wasserman (@ShawnWasserman) is the Internet of Things (IoT) and Simulation Editor at ENGINEERING.com. He is passionate about ensuring engineers make the right decisions when using computer-aided engineering (CAE) software and IoT development tools. Shawn has a Masters in Bio-Engineering from the University of Guelph and a BASc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.